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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Art collector settlement allows repatriation of 2 rare ceramic antiquities to Peru

NEW YORK - Two rare ceramic pieces can now be returned to the Government of Peru following an agreement by the United States and a New York-based collector of Peruvian pre-Columbian antiquities on Nov. 2. The settlement resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The Peruvian government considers the items part of the country's cultural patrimony and believes they were unlawfully exported.

Acting on information from Peru, on Aug. 5, 2009, ICE HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized two antiquities, and several other pieces, at John F. Kennedy International Airport as they entered the United States on a Swiss Air flight from Zurich, Switzerland. ICE HSI agents promptly began an investigation into their provenance.

Working closely with leading experts in Peruvian pre-Columbian ceramics, law enforcement established that the two items had likely originated from the Jequetepeque Valley in Peru from La Mina or another archaeological site nearby in the Lambayeque area. The ceramics experts date the two pieces from between 300 and 360 A.D. These sites were looted in the late 1970s, and items from this area did not reach the art market until the early 1980s.

The investigation led ICE HSI and CBP to conclude that invoices created by the seller and exporter of record, Anton Roeckl, which indicated that Roeckl had purchased the property in Germany in the late 1960s, were untrue.

As part of the settlement agreement, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York agreed to ask counsel for the Peruvian government to place the two repatriated items in a museum or other cultural institution in Peru.

"The artifacts we have recovered are a significant part of the cultural history of Peru and will now be returned to their rightful owners," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agents in charge of the ICE HSI office in New York. "This agreement demonstrates the continued success of cooperative efforts among foreign governments and U.S. law enforcement."

The seized items are described as a "Pot with a Feline on One Side," is a whole bottle with a tubular gullet, beveled lip, and stirrup handle. The body of the vase has a globe-like shape and flat base. It shows pictorial decoration and the image of a feline in a lateral position standing up showing its teeth with a spotted body, in high relief. It is an original pre-Hispanic piece of Peruvian origin in the Dos Cabezas (formerly La Mina) sub-style.

The other piece, "Standing Feline," is a whole sculpted bottle with tubular gullet and reinforced lip, stirrup handle in the back side of the piece. The feline represented is standing up on his posterior hinds while the arms in the front are held high, showing its palms. The face of the feline shows it with eyes open, mouth open, and tongue on display. It is an original pre-Hispanic piece of Peruvian origin in the Dos Cabezas (formerly La Mina) sub-style.